WASHINGTON (CN) – In a step towards regulating the internet, Federal Communications Committee Chair Julius Genachowski proposed a net neutrality rule Monday to prevent telecommunications companies from blocking Internet applications.
The rule is meant to address mounting tensions between network providers like Verizon and Comcast, and those that make competing Web applications such as Skype, an online phone service.
“This is about preserving and maintaining something profoundly successful,” said the FCC chair of the open internet that allows anyone to innovate or add without permission. During his keynote address at the Brookings Institute, Genachowski said users must continue to decide which applications proceed, without the influence of networks that favor one over the other.
Applications developers, like Google, have embraced the proposal while internet service providers, like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T appeared wary of the potential controls. Applications developers said the controls would maintain innovation and a free internet, while network providers argued that autonomous controlling of user access is important in keeping excessive traffic from slowing the network.
Genachowski said that operators have selectively restricted Web access, noting in particular that one service provider restricted user access to select political sites.
Network providers that often sell phone and television service are now challenged by Web applications that do largely the same thing. Skype and Google Voice are two applications that rout calls through the Web, often very cheaply or for free. Some network providers appear to have restricted access to these competing applications.
Just last week, Google complained to the FCC that Apple has rejected its voice service on the iphone. Apple reportedly denied the claim, saying it is still determining whether to allow the service.
Skype Technologies President Josh Silverman made a similar complaint during a panel discussion after the speech, “I’m telling you Skype is blocked. It’s blocked on a lot of networks.” He called it “incredibly dangerous” for internet service providers to decide, as he put it, which 1s and 0s are okay to allow and which are not.
Skype has over 400 million users around the world and adds 300,000 new users every day. “It is with an open and free internet that we develop wonderful new applications,” he said.
But panelist David Young from Verizon said he doesn’t see a problem, and that he was happy to hear the chairman say that the FCC will do only what is needed “and no more.”
Young appeared to relay the concerns of other network providers, which have said that they need flexibility in managing network traffic to keep some applications from hogging too much bandwidth, and slowing the network.
President Barack Obama put his weight behind the proposal for controls. “It is an important reminder that the role of government is to provide investment that spurs innovation and common-sense ground rules to ensure that there is a level playing field for all comers who seek to contribute their innovations,” he said approvingly in a speech shortly after the announcement.
Genachowski was Obama’s technology advisor during the presidential campaign.
Ben Scott, the policy director at Free Press and panelist, called the proposed controls “a very common sense approach” and joked that Genachowski is “boldly applying common sense to policy, which we have seen across the political spectrum is a risky business.”
Important lawmakers appear ready to draw up legislation for such regulation, with California Democratic Representative Henry Waxman stating last week that he will co-author a net neutrality bill with Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and California Democrat Anna Eschoo.
Scott of the Free Press appeared unfazed by the new proposals. “The internet is becoming an infrastructure,” he said, and deduced that it will inevitably have a regulatory structure. “This is not something we should be wary or frightened of. It’s something we should expect.” He pointed to regulation of spam, likely unbeknownst to many, as one example of where the government has already regulated the internet.